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High Level Overview of Key NiFi Features

This sections provides a 20,000 foot view of NiFi's cornerstone fundamentals, so that you can understand the Apache NiFi big picture, and some of its the most interesting features. The key features categories include flow management, ease of use, security, extensible architecture, and flexible scaling model.

Flow Management
Guaranteed Delivery

A core philosophy of NiFi has been that even at very high scale, guaranteed delivery is a must. This is achieved through effective use of a purpose-built persistent write-ahead log and content repository. Together they are designed in such a way as to allow for very high transaction rates, effective load-spreading, copy-on-write, and play to the strengths of traditional disk read/writes.

Data Buffering w/ Back Pressure and Pressure Release

NiFi supports buffering of all queued data as well as the ability to provide back pressure as those queues reach specified limits or to age off data as it reaches a specified age (its value has perished).

Prioritized Queuing

NiFi allows the setting of one or more prioritization schemes for how data is retrieved from a queue. The default is oldest first, but there are times when data should be pulled newest first, largest first, or some other custom scheme.

Flow Specific QoS (latency v throughput, loss tolerance, etc.)

There are points of a dataflow where the data is absolutely critical and it is loss intolerant. There are also times when it must be processed and delivered within seconds to be of any value. NiFi enables the fine-grained flow specific configuration of these concerns.

Ease of Use
Visual Command and Control

Dataflows can become quite complex. Being able to visualize those flows and express them visually can help greatly to reduce that complexity and to identify areas that need to be simplified. NiFi enables not only the visual establishment of dataflows but it does so in real-time. Rather than being design and deploy it is much more like molding clay. If you make a change to the dataflow that change immediately takes effect. Changes are fine-grained and isolated to the affected components. You don't need to stop an entire flow or set of flows just to make some specific modification.

Flow Templates

Dataflows tend to be highly pattern oriented and while there are often many different ways to solve a problem, it helps greatly to be able to share those best practices. Templates allow subject matter experts to build and publish their flow designs and for others to benefit and collaborate on them.

Data Provenance

NiFi automatically records, indexes, and makes available provenance data as objects flow through the system even across fan-in, fan-out, transformations, and more. This information becomes extremely critical in supporting compliance, troubleshooting, optimization, and other scenarios.

Recovery / Recording a rolling buffer of fine-grained history

NiFi's content repository is designed to act as a rolling buffer of history. Data is removed only as it ages off the content repository or as space is needed. This combined with the data provenance capability makes for an incredibly useful basis to enable click-to-content, download of content, and replay, all at a specific point in an object's lifecycle which can even span generations.

System to System

A dataflow is only as good as it is secure. NiFi at every point in a dataflow offers secure exchange through the use of protocols with encryption such as 2-way SSL. In addition NiFi enables the flow to encrypt and decrypt content and use shared-keys or other mechanisms on either side of the sender/recipient equation.

User to System

NiFi enables 2-Way SSL authentication and provides pluggable authorization so that it can properly control a user's access and at particular levels (read-only, dataflow manager, admin). If a user enters a sensitive property like a password into the flow, it is immediately encrypted server side and never again exposed on the client side even in its encrypted form.

Multi-tenant Authorization

The authority level of a given dataflow applies to each component, allowing the admin user to have fine grained level of access control. This means each NiFi cluster is capable of handling the requirements of one or more organizations. Compared to isolated topologies, multi-tenant authorization enables a self-service model for dataflow management, allowing each team or organization to manage flows with a full awareness of the rest of the flow, to which they do not have access.

Extensible Architecture

NiFi is at its core built for extension and as such it is a platform on which dataflow processes can execute and interact in a predictable and repeatable manner. Points of extension include: processors, Controller Services, Reporting Tasks, Prioritizers, and Customer User Interfaces.

Classloader Isolation

For any component-based system, dependency problems can quickly occur. NiFi addresses this by providing a custom class loader model, ensuring that each extension bundle is exposed to a very limited set of dependencies. As a result, extensions can be built with little concern for whether they might conflict with another extension. The concept of these extension bundles is called NiFi Archives and is discussed in greater detail in the Developer's Guide.

Site-to-Site Communication Protocol

The preferred communication protocol between NiFi instances is the NiFi Site-to-Site (S2S) Protocol. S2S makes it easy to transfer data from one NiFi instance to another easily, efficiently, and securely. NiFi client libraries can be easily built and bundled into other applications or devices to communicate back to NiFi via S2S. Both the socket based protocol and HTTP(S) protocol are supported in S2S as the underlying transport protocol, making it possible to embed a proxy server into the S2S communication.

Flexible Scaling Model
Scale-out (Clustering)

NiFi is designed to scale-out through the use of clustering many nodes together as described above. If a single node is provisioned and configured to handle hundreds of MB per second, then a modest cluster could be configured to handle GB per second. This then brings about interesting challenges of load balancing and fail-over between NiFi and the systems from which it gets data. Use of asynchronous queuing based protocols like messaging services, Kafka, etc., can help. Use of NiFi's site-to-site feature is also very effective as it is a protocol that allows NiFi and a client (including another NiFi cluster) to talk to each other, share information about loading, and to exchange data on specific authorized ports.

Scale-up & down

NiFi is also designed to scale-up and down in a very flexible manner. In terms of increasing throughput from the standpoint of the NiFi framework, it is possible to increase the number of concurrent tasks on the processor under the Scheduling tab when configuring. This allows more processes to execute simultaneously, providing greater throughput. On the other side of the spectrum, you can perfectly scale NiFi down to be suitable to run on edge devices where a small footprint is desired due to limited hardware resources. To specifically solve the first mile data collection challenge and edge use cases, you can find more details here: https://cwiki.apache.org/confluence/display/NIFI/MiNiFi regarding a child project effort of Apache NiFi, MiNiFi (pronounced "minify", [min-uh-fahy]).